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FCC gives go ahead for Viewability Order sunset

The Federal Communications Commission June 11 voted 5-0 to allow an existing order set up to guarantee cable TV subscribers could continue to view must-carry broadcast stations following completion of the DTV transition to sunset as scheduled on June 12.

The FCC also setup a six month transitional period following the sunset (till Dec. 12) to give cable operators, broadcasters and viewers relying on must-carry access the chance to take the appropriate steps made necessary by the sunset.

The commission originally put its Viewability Order in place in 2007 to ensure subscribers of hybrid cable systems — those offering both analog and digital tiers of service — would maintain their analog retransmission of broadcast stations for a minimum of three years from the analog over-the-air television shutoff.

Establishing a three-year sunset period would give the FCC the chance to review its rules “in light of the potential cost and service disruption to consumers, and the state of the technology and the marketplace,” the agency said in its initial order.

This week, in adopting its Fifth Report and Order regarding Carriage of Digital Television Broadcast Signals, the FCC said it reached its decision to allow the viewability requirement to sunset based on “significant changes in the marketplace and technology that have occurred over the past five years.”

The order also extends for three more years the HD carriage exemption for small cable system operators.

A statement from Michael Powell, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, released to the media following the vote dubbed the order “pro-consumer.” Powell said the action will “promote the deployment of faster broadband and the expansion of new and exciting digital services.”

NAB expressed concern about the order. Dennis Wharton, NAB executive VP of Communications, said in a statement to the media that the commission’s decision “has the potential to impose negative financial consequences on small local TV stations that are a source of minority, religious and independent program diversity across America.”